Speed II: The Pitch


I confess that no brilliant idea struck me for today’s post, so I’m offering a kind of update instead, an update which I hope some will find interesting as a window on both creative and business process. Two weeks ago I posted on writing quickly, using as an instance a WIP on which I was about to start work. I had lofty goals, and though I haven’t attained them all, I’m making progress. Today’s post is about the next step.

As I said last time in response to comments, I’m leaning a little more to the pantser side on this one, though I am still mapping the larger story as an outline, and the difference between this and my usual strategy is more about speed than methodology. I’m making decisions quickly and moving on. I’m also blending the plotting and writing process to an extent: I have the basic shape of the thing planned out, but that plan is really a rough sketch, and I’m allowing myself a lot of freedom to add and adjust as I write.

Two weeks ago I declared the intent to get this puppy cranked out fast, but life—as it often seems to—intervened, this time in the form of end of semester meetings and grading. All told, I got no more than a couple of thousand words done by the end of that first week, half of that was the first few pages of the book, the other half plot notes.

I’ve now finished week two, and have had more time to write, so that I’ve wound up with 12,500 words, all but the last thousand of which are narrative draft rather than outline. I’m working chronologically in a single document, moving through the story and then deleting the relevant guide to what I just completed from the outline which follows. What this means is that I have a “real time” story which then transitions into an outline with the tag “Here’s what happens next.” I’m doing this for two reasons. One, it helps me to move through the story and keep a clear sense of the overall structure and what has to happen next. That way, when I come back to it, I dive in where I left off and have a short paragraph telling me what I have to write now. The second reason is that I’m now thinking of this as a submission strategy.

My situation, some of you will recall is this, is this: My first children’s book comes out in October and is done. The second in that series is done in first draft form and turned in so far ahead of schedule that my publisher is (understandably) taking a while over getting me notes: they weren’t expecting the book till July. I can’t start work on book 3 without talking through book 2 and probably won’t be able to start till the publisher has sale numbers for book 1 (which will influence whether this is a 3 book series or more).

This is all important because it means that I have a professional relationship with a publisher, but one which is still in its infancy. I would love to solidify that relationship with a new book (or series) and think that I’m in a strong enough position to pitch the book (or series) as a partial, rather than waiting till I complete the whole book. In short, I’m giving my current press first refusal at the drawing-board stage, on the understanding that if they don’t like it and I opt to write it anyway, then I can offer it to other houses. I wouldn[‘t normally do this but, as I said last time, this is a fairly high concept project, where a lot of what will make it attractive or repulsive to readers and publishers alike is built into the hook and will be loud and clear in the summary/partial. It is, I think, the kind of story you could summarize effectively in a sentence and raise a few eyebrows.

Whether those raised eyebrows are of the “Interesting: tell me more” variety, or the “You have got to be joking,” variety remains to be seen, and that’s kind of what I want to find out. So the plan I’ve worked out with my agent is simply this. I’ll clean up what I have, flesh it out a little, expand upon the “here’s what happens next” outline, and shoot to have my agent submit it to my current publisher (and no one else) next week. I figure the whole package will be about 15,000 words, but since I’m shooting for this to be a (for me) short book of the Middle Grades variety, possibly pushing into YA, I think that 15K will represent about a quarter of the finished length: more than enough to give my current publisher a taste so they can see if it’s something they’d like to read more of.

One of the issues I’ve already run into is that my plot sketch isn’t rich enough. As a result I’m marching through the story too quickly, and my planned 50-60,000 word story might not get beyond 25,000: which is no use, even in today’s market of ever shrinking books. I need, it seems, a subplot: a cool seeming-digression which I can make integral by weaving key elements into the resolution of the main narrative. I’ve also stumbled on a good plot element simply in the writing of a character who has already pushed the story in an unexpected (but not problematic) direction.

Moving from concept, to execution, editing and submission in a few weeks may be nuts, and there is a very real chance that the whole thing will stall if my publisher isn’t interested, but if I have to abandon it, I’ve lost very little in terms of time. (In truth, I doubt that I will abandon it anyway. I’ll plug away till it’s done, when my submission options will increase significantly. I still may not sell the book, but I will at least be able to get it in front of editors in various houses.) And if my current publisher bites—or even just nibbles—then I can continue this furious writing pace in the hope of having the thing under contract and drafted by the end of the summer. That would be nice, no?


6 comments to Speed II: The Pitch

  • That would be fantastic, yes! Let’s hope the current publisher bites. I’m hoping they do for pure selfish reason: I want to see how this exercise in speed writing plays itself out. Keep cranking away at it.

  • Fascinating stuff, A.J., in part because it’s so different from what I usually do and even farther from what I’m doing now. And as with everything else these days, what you’re talking about makes me question the wisdom of my current approach. I’m writing a new book with the intention of completing it before submitting. I have no idea if this is smart; I do know that it promises to take far longer than what you’re doing, with absolutely no promise of any sort of payoff at the end. As I say, I’m wondering (daily) if this makes any sense at all. I look forward to hearing how your experiment turns out.

  • AJ, this is the smartest, fastest, most businesslike approach to *staying in print* that I’ve ever heard. It’s like a steamroller, Baby. (Are you singing the song?) I like it. It’s a faster version of what I *tried* to do between books 4 and 5 of the Jane Yellowrock series, but my pub didn’t want my new series. I still intend to publish that one someday. I have another concept in mind for yet another story/series, and I’ll be pulling in ideas from your method to make that happen. I feel like I have to put out high quality partials right now, maybe one a year and see who bites.

  • Thanks Ed. I have no idea how this will work out and feel a little vulnerable sharing the method before I know if it works or not! Will keep you informed either way.

    this is new to me too, though I do have one nasty experience in the fairly recent past that makes me think this approach is worth trying. About 4 years ago I set out working on what was to be my 4th adult thriller. I discussed it with my editor and was told that they could do a deal based on an outline. I opted not to do that, partly because I thought that I might get a better deal elsewhere with a complete manuscript. I took a few months to finish the book, by which time the thriller market had collapsed with the economy. My editor said she thought this was my best book to date but they weren’t going to offer on it. No one else bought it either. I’ve kicked myself ever since. Rightly or wrongly I feel right now that getting a commitment up front from a publisher based on a partial is probably better than trying to get different publishers bnidding against each other over a finished book. Of course, there’s a good chance my current editor won’t be excited enough about the partial to offer, but all that means is that I go the other route (full ms., multiple submissions to publishers) which I would have done anyway. Right now, I don’t really see the downside unless it’s a smaller advance (which I don’t really care about).

    Faith, whether it’s smart or not will be proved by the pudding, I suppose, and I could easily find myself no further forward if no one likes the partial. I guess we’ll see. And the world will know my shame and failure thanks to Magical Words :)

  • The world knows mine now too! When I was between books (between being Gary Hunter and Gwen Hunter) I did 4 or 5 partials and the submissions made the rounds. Then I buckled down and finished the one I liked best, which sold after 18 months. One of the partials sold later. I’ve used parts of the others from time to time in other books. Nothing lost at all. And shame is transitory, buried under fame.

    Have you ever thougth about making the unsold thriller into an Urban fantasy?

  • Thanks for the update! I want to know if this is sustainable too – when it’s all said and done, will you be willing to do it again?